Meet the Winemakers: Francesca di Benedetto & Chiara Innocenti, Val di Chiana, Tuscany

Hello Francesca and Chiara, where are you from? 
F: From the south of Italy, in Campania in the province of Salerno. I studied biology at the University of Pisa, in Tuscany, where I met Chiara. After graduating I worked at the university: I was doing research for my phd on wild boar and partridges, above all, I was working in a laboratory and I didn’t like it …  
So I gave up my job to go back to school, this time studying viticulture and oenology.

C: I was born in Tuscany, in Florence.  I studied Economics in Pisa, where I met Francesca. 
For years I worked in Milan, then I returned to Tuscany to begin the Tunia adventure. 

What do you enjoy in life? 
F : I like reading novels, living and working in the nature, spending time with my daughter (playing music together: me the flute and her the piano; making small “artistic” creations; listening with her to audio books), doing yoga and meditation, cooking, doing puzzles, walking with my dog.

C: I like walking in the countryside, eating and drinking well, spending time with my family and friends, traveling.

What don’t you like: 
F: I don’t like noise, confusion, traffic, frenetic life. 

C: I don’t like watching TV, staying at home and being bored, being late.


Why did you move to Tuscany? In what year?
F & C : We decided to have an estate of our own in 2007, and we chose Tuscany because it is a wonderful region!  We didn’t want to work for others anymore, but wanted to have our own project.
We found this old estate in Civitella and immediately liked it. So we took over these old abandoned vineyards once cultivated by the nuns of Florence who used to make their Vin Santo there. 

Why vinify natural wines?
F & C: Our idea is to add nothing, and take nothing away from our grapes and our wines, to respect nature, the environment, health and tradition. That’s why we produce natural wines! 

Why did you choose the name Tunia for your estate?
F & C: Vines have been cultivated in this region since the time of the Etruscans and Tunia is the Etruscan name of the god who protected the ripening of the fruit. 


Your vineyard is planted with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Trebbiano and Vermentino, can you tell us more?

F & C: We took over an existing vineyard with all the advantages, and disadvantages.
The first advantage is that we had white grape vines. We were very happy with that, and while many people advised us to pull out the Trebbiano vines, we kept them.  
This is a Trebbiano Rosa, its skin is pink when ripe. It is an old variety that was used for Vin Santo in the past.  The bunch is loose, conical in shape. The skin is quite thick and therefore perfectly adapted to a long passerillage as used for the Vin Santo. The pulp is semi-aromatic with little acidity.

F: On these Trebbiano rosa vines, part of it has been grafted with Vermentino, which is a grape variety that I had worked with in Sardinia and that I knew well. In my opinion, its characteristics are very complementary to those of Trebbiano. 
Vermentino is the first to ripen and is followed by some varieties of Sangiovese. Then it’s Trebbiano and then the remaining varieties of Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignon is the last one. We never worry about ripeness, it is achieved every year.

The Sangiovese vines have been sourced via massal selection. They are therefore different and local varieties of Sangiovese co-planted and not official clones. 

As for the Cabernet Sauvignon, we planted them ourselves. We chose clones with small yields and very good quality: clones 337 and 338 which produce small berries. 

Is the climate suitable for organic growing methods?
F: Yes, the climate is very favourable for organic growing: it is hot and there is a lot of wind which reduces humidity. We don’t suffer from neighbours either and we are isolated with no crops around us.  Moreover, on our estate, the soil is not too rich in clay, so we don’t have water stagnation.

What are your current and future projects?
F & C: We have some shortages and every year we replant vines between the rows. We are also thinking of reviewing the density of the vineyard by adding a row between the existing ones. This is a big job and not all spacing is the same. 


Since when and how did you come up with the idea of making macerated white wines? 
F & C: In the traditional winemaking of Tuscany the white wine was macerated.  Moreover we didn’t want to use any additives, so the choice was obvious…
In addition, our white grapes are very rich in colour and aroma, especially in the skins. So we do long macerations to get as much as we can out of these rich skins.

For Chiarofiore, your white maceration, you use 4 different sorts of harvest.  Can you tell us more about this idea? 
F & C: Chiarofiore is the surprise wine. On the label it is a white wine, but when it flows into the glass you can see its intense amber notes.

We did a lot of testing before arriving at this choice of 4 harvests. The first vintage vinified in this way is 2011. Before we tested the maceration times, the dates of harvest. We tested the fermentations in barrels, the maturing in barrels…
Finally, this choice of 4 harvests at different degrees of maturity with skin macerations adapted to these maturities, then fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks gave the most complex and balanced.
 After a year of maturing on fine lees, we blend the wines before bottling, without clarifying or filtering them.

Can you explain us how you make the sparkling Sottofondo prise de mousse?
F: Sottofondo is a méthode traditionnelle, non-disgorged sparkling wine. The base wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks and is left on fine lees for a long time (until January, February). This coincides with the time when the Vin Santo grapes are pressed, which have been drying since the September harvest. This Vin Santo must is added at the bottling stage for the foaming process.

Sottofondo is the result of several years of tests and successive improvements in the winery, in order to achieve our own interpretation of the “bubbles” with the méthode traditionnelle of refermentation in the bottle, without disgorging and, therefore, with deposit.

The decision not to carry out disgorging (so you will always find the crown cap), clarification or filtration is linked to the idea of the “living wine”, which continues its evolution in the bottle thanks to the presence of yeast or what is left of it.

What does Chassobuio mean?
F&C: It is the first wine (red) we produced in Tunia.  It is named after the river that delimits our vineyards. The wine is born from old vines planted in 1970, from which Chianti was historically produced, recovered thanks to skilful improvement work.
As is the tradition here, the Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo and Trebbiano varieties live together on the plot of land. These grapes were traditionally vinified together, as Baron Ricasoli recommended in 1872, when he was trying to obtain the “perfect wine”.

As far as Chiassobuio is concerned, we have chosen not to use Trebbiano. Only the red varieties are vinified together in this cuvée.The vinification is done half in stainless steel vats and half in oak barrels.Then the wine is aged 36 months with this volume distribution: 50% in stainless steel vats and 50% in barrels. Then the wine is matured in the bottle for several years so that the tannins of the Sangiovese can be rounded off. 

What do you want from wine?
F&C: That it is good when I drink it; a well made wine is good right away, even if it will be even better several years later!

Which regional dishes do you recommend with your wines?
F&C: We have a rich cuisine in Tuscany and there is a wide choice to go with our wines.

On our reds, game (wild boar), dried meats, offal, grilled meats, pasta with duck sauce go very well.  With Chiarofiore, mature cheeses, guinea fowl, liver, tagines and vegetable dishes go very well.

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